Monteith’s approach was a very interesting one as rather than have the sketches and scenes work as cutaways and standalone sketches, he knitted them together cleverly
Review by Brian Slade
Des O’Connor developed a reputation for being generous to new comic talent on his hugely successful chat show. In 1977, Des presented a young American comedian who was so popular he would earn a six-series run with the BBC in his own show, presenting his comic view of the world in the self-titled programme, Kelly Monteith.
After his first appearance on Des O’Connor Tonight in November of 1977, Kelly Monteith had several subsequent segments with Des as well as a spot on Val Doonican’s Christmas special, Christmas in the Country in 1978. Despite his attempt at solo television success in 1976 failing in America, in 1979 the BBC green lit a series of six shows and Monteith took his opportunity with great aplomb.
Kelly Monteith (Monteith specifically didn’t want his UK effort to be called The Kelly Monteith Show) saw the stand-up comic combine sketches, stand-up, parody, sitcom and fourth-wall breaking segments. Topics would be based on his life in the entertainment business and the moments in life which seem to befall all of us at some stage, like the challenges of being the only single amongst couples at a dinner party or waiters asking if you are happy with your food just seconds after you have filled your mouth.
Monteith’s approach was a very interesting one as rather than have the sketches and scenes work as cutaways and standalone sketches, he knitted them together cleverly. After an initial random comedy sketch, he talked to the camera from what appears to be a sitcom set, be it a restaurant, his office, or his home that he shared with wife Suzanne (Gabrielle Drake). He would run a standard monologue before segueing into a sketch to demonstrate the point he was making with his comedy, such as his over-spending wife surrounded by adoring men as she destroys Bond Street stores with her spending Kelly’s money, or a sitcom-style sketch as his life story develops, such as trying to persuade a bank manager to approve a loan so he can make a break into movies. There is a constant sitcom feel to his programmes, even though it is interlaced with parody sketches and stand-up routines to camera.
Drake is the most frequent guest star in Monteith’s programmes, but across the six series for the BBC he surrounded himself with some familiar faces. At various points in the run, British acting stalwarts like Victor Spinetti, Frank Thornton, Gorden Kaye, John Bluthal and Joanna Van Gyseghem could be spotted. It was a shrewd move for such an unusual format from an untried American comedian in the 1970s.
Monteith’s first episode opening monologue was about how uncertain he was as to the welcome a BBC audience would grant him as an American comedian getting his first crack at his own British programme. It is hard to recall an earlier example of an American comedian being given his own show in the UK, and almost impossible to think of one that was successful enough to sustain six series. Part of the success is the novel format, intertwining so many styles of television and stage comedy into half hour slots. But the principal reason for the show’s success however was the extreme likeability of Monteith himself. The brash American stereotype is not on offer with Kelly…his humour was well-observed, transferred well despite being from the other side of the Atlantic, and he delivered it in a way that we could empathise with him during the many unfortunate events life threw at him.
Monteith himself was taken to heart by the BBC. He did all the things British talent of the day was doing – breakfast TV, Saturday Morning kids’ programmes, Blankety Blank and he worked with as wide-ranging comedians as Bob Monkhouse and Woody Allen at the height of his powers, and yet in 1985 when his sixth series ended, television lost track of Kelly Monteith. It wasn’t until 2019 that viewers saw any significant work from the affable American, with The Real Geezers of Beverley Hills-Adjacent. Shortly afterward, he released two series of nostalgic internet videos sharing memories and sketches of his BBC years. His stroke in 2021 that left him battling aphasia was cruelly timed, but a view of those videos reminds us of his charm and the quality of the original ground-breaking comedy, Kelly Monteith.
Published on September 21st, 2022. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.